Height gain: 835 metres
Height loss: 875 metres
Trogen – Bühler – Appenzell - Jakobsbad
A week after the first leg of my cross-country walk, I head back to eastern Switzerland for the second stage. After overnight rain, it is a lovely Sunday morning. The rain has cleared the air, the outline of the mountains is sharp, every element of the relief highlighted by the low-angled early morning sun. Residual ribbons of cloud add to the beauty of the scenery as I travel slowly on the Voralpen-Express (any Swiss train whose name contains the word “express” is guaranteed to be slow) from Luzern to St. Gallen, then on to Trogen where I ended the previous stage. Having woken up early and made the effort to get out of bed, I am ready to start walking at 10:30 despite the three-hour train ride.
It takes a fair bit of road walking to get out of Trogen, and it is half an hour before I am finally on a woodland path that climbs steeply up, winding its way over and around numerous tree roots that have been exposed by erosion. This path soon brings me out onto a lane – yet more asphalt – and in no time at all I have already reached Hohe Buche, the day’s first top at 1130 metres above sea level. This grassy hilltop, complete with a restaurant, gives great views southwards towards the Säntis range, already much closer than when seen from the Kaienspitz during the previous stage of the walk. It will still take a good day’s walking after this one before I am right up close to the mountains though. There are some big cumulus clouds puffing up over the summits: rain and possibly thunderstorms are forecast for this evening, and the first signs of the coming change are already there.
|On the way up to Hohe Buche|
For the moment though, the weather is warm and sunny. Continuing southwards, I drop gently downhill along a rounded, grassy ridge. I see no other walkers but plenty of mountain bikers, some huffing and puffing their way uphill, others bracing and braking as they plunge downwards. I pass through a gate where rolling hills are nicely framed between trees, then climb up again to a rounded hilltop, nameless on the map but the day’s highest point at 1160 metres. The view opens up eastwards as well from here, with the most prominent feature being the Hoher Kasten, its square top a clear feature of the skyline.
|Typical Appenzell landscape between Hohe Buche and Wissegg|
Dropping down more steeply now I pass a couple of isolated houses at Wissegg, where there is also a monumental spreading tree, its branches still completely devoid of leaves. I pass through a herd of cows and carry on down through a grassy meadow where the background perfume of the air leaves no doubt that the same animals were here not long ago. A zigzagging path through trees finally brings me right down into the valley, and to the village of Bühler, grouped around a pretty church tower but otherwise undistinguished. There is a junior football tournament going on as the church clock strikes midday, four tiny teams battling it out on two adjacent pitches while others wait their turn.
More road walking now, and steep uphill road walking at that. The day has become hot and quite sticky as I slog uphill, climbing back out of the valley into which I descended half an hour previously. A hand-painted signpost informs me that it is 2443 kilometres and 96 days’ walk to Santiago de Compostela… I don’t think I will be doing that. Eventually the lane becomes a grassy path, which climbs prettily up along the edge of a wood, before bringing me out onto another ridge top at the farm of Saul, at an altitude of 1031 metres. I have finally regained all the height lost earlier.
|It's a long way to Santiago...|
The view is magnificent from here, even though the summits of the Alpstein range have succumbed to the clouds and disappeared. The foreground is a lovely mix of green hills, little copses and hedgerows, and fields where the vivid green of the spring grass is intermingled with bands of yellow dandelions. I find a nice spot just up above the path to sit and have my lunch, not doing any sketching this time but just enjoying a landscape on which the only blot is a line of high-voltage power cables (edited out of the photo below). Occasional walkers pass by, including a woman who I initially think is trying to engage me in conversation, before I realise that she is simply chattering away with herself.
From this point, it is a long, steady descent down into the next valley and to the little town of Appenzell, the regional capital. Though pretty, this part of the walk is yet again largely on hard surfaces, with only occasional shortcuts to eliminate loops in the lane. It has taken me three hours to reach Appenzell, and once again I realise that my guidebook (which suggests 4 hours 15 minutes as the time needed) must be aimed at a very relaxed kind of hiker. I have not been pushing myself at all, and yet am 25% faster than the indicated time.
|View towards the Hoher Kasten, on the way down to Appenzell village|
I do not get to see much of Appenzell. Unexpectedly, and somewhat unfortunately, I arrive right in the middle of the Landsgemeinde, an exercise in direct democracy that is held here once a year on the last Sunday in April (a fact which I did not know until Wikipedia told me about it after the walk). It is clearly a big event not only for tourists, but also for the local population. The streets of the village are packed, most of the men are wearing suits or at least smart shirts, while the women are dressed up in posh frocks and hats. Everyone looks very hot and everyone is making good use of the beer stalls that have been set up in the streets. The village’s main square is completely blocked off, accessible only to those who have the right to vote, which obviously does not include me. Officers wearing blue suits and very shiny brass helmets are guarding the entry points to the square, making sure that only locals are allowed to go within the perimeter rope and raise their hands to vote. On a rostrum at one end of the square, below a big tree, a local dignitary or politician is making a speech about the town’s swimming pool, clearly the object of some kind of vote today. It is an interesting tradition to have seen, but it does mean that I do not really get much of a look at the village centre.
|Landsgemeinde in Appenzell|
I was not sure how far I would walk today; Trogen to Appenzell was always going to be too short a day’s walk. The next stage in my guidebook would take me to Urnäsch, but that would be another three to four hours and probably too much – or at least, it would result in me getting home very late. I opt for a compromise and decide to walk to Jakobsbad, just over halfway to Urnäsch; I will tack the remaining hour and a quarter onto the beginning of the next stage.
To be honest, I might as well not have bothered, as the two hours’ walk from Appenzell to Jakobsbad is best forgotten. To anyone reading this who is not obsessed with walking every inch of the official route, I would recommend either finding an alternative for this stage, or simply taking the train from Appenzell to Urnäsch. The first twenty minutes’ walking out of Appenzell is beside a very busy main road. The path then rises a bit above the road, but stays very close to it all the way to Gontenbad, which I reach after about three quarters of an hour. There is no view to speak of – the best views are behind me, towards the Hoher Kasten, but even these are marred by the urban foreground.
Beyond Gontenbad, things improve slightly, and here comes the only redeeming feature of this part of the walk. From Gontenbad to Jakobsbad is the Barfussweg, or “Barefoot path”. As its name suggests, this is a modern re-invention of the old tradition whereby people would remove their shoes to cross the grassy fields from one village to the next. I bow to the tradition, remove my shoes and socks and set off along a grassy path which skirts round the edge of a golf course. It’s actually a very pleasant sensation to be walking barefoot in the grass, and the earth of the occasional muddier patches also feels lovely and cool underfoot. Of course I will not be a pretty sight afterwards, but I had planned to wash my feet this month anyway… Along the way I pass several other barefoot walkers, mostly families but also several older people. There are also quite a few cyclists, none of whom are barefoot, nor have they removed the wheels of their bikes. Eventually the ground becomes more gravelly and less pleasant to walk on, and I put my boots back on. I skirt past the village of Gonten, from where a final twenty minutes’ or so walking brings me to Jakobsbad, where there is a railway station and various outdoor activities: a cable-car going up to the Kronberg above, a rope walk activity thing, a nature trail and so on.
On the train back, just before Urnäsch, there is a view up the valley that leads towards Schwägalp. This will be the next stage of the walk. The official Alpine Panorama route simply follows the river up the valley bottom, but I have identified a more interesting-looking way up the hills on its left side, via Hochalp and the 1520-metre Spicher. It still looks like there is a lot of snow up there though and, with much colder temperatures and more snow forecast over the coming days, I may need to put the next part of my journey on hold for a couple of weeks.